February 18, 2021

Dr. Marlon James ’08 recalls when thoughts of achieving a doctoral degree seemed like an elusive pipe dream. “It was a life-altering event for me to pursue a Ph.D.,” said the Texas A&M University urban education professor.  “No one in my family had acquired that type of education or even thought to attempt it. I have a deep appreciation for two amazing scholars who put me on this path and changed my life.”

The duo of which he speaks, Professors Emeriti Pat Larke and Norvella Carter, founded the specialty fields of multicultural and urban education in the Department of Teaching, Learning & Culture in Texas A&M’s College of Education and Human Development. The “Mother Scholars,” as their former students refer to them, have produced a voluminous number of teachers and professors across the world who are dedicated to equity in education. 

Retired since 2017, their legacy continues through the college’s Carter-Larke Lecture Series held yearly during Black History Month. A fundraising campaign is underway to raise a minimum of $100,000 to permanently endow the event, which focuses on how to improve educational opportunities for underrepresented communities. Such an endowment could enable a yearlong lecture series, allowing prolonged conversation about the issue.


Premier Pioneers

“We wanted to institutionalize equity research within the College of Education and Human Development,” continued James, who came up with the idea for the Carter-Larke Lecture Series. He trained under both scholars and returned to Texas A&M in 2014 as an assistant professor. “How do you do that when your two premier scholars are retired? Dr. Larke brought multicultural studies here. Without her, there would be no field. Dr. Carter brought urban education here. She was the first Black endowed chair holder in university history. They are historic figures. We can’t lose that focus.”

James sees the lecture series as a positive vehicle for cultural change.

“Our very first lecturer talked about the lack of Black educators in the teaching profession and how to increase representation. I can literally draw a line from that lecture to the momentum it created and improvements we made with recent hires in our department,” he said.We made that investment at the right time. Students more than ever want to talk about race issues because of the division in our country. They have to learn equity skills. It’s no longer avoidable in America. We have to prepare them the best we can with knowledge and research around issues of equity.”

James went from “poverty to professorship,” he continued, due to training from Carter and Larke. “I went from the housing projects in Chicago to a top university. It was a long journey, and they’ve made similar journeys possible for so many people. We’ve reaped the benefits of their life’s labor. These are the shoulders we stand on.”


About the 2021 Carter-Larke Lecture Series

Dr. Chance Lewis, the Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor of Urban Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, delivers this year’s Feb. 25 lecture, “The Celebration of Black Culture and Education.”

Lewis is the executive director of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Urban Education Collaborative, which is publishing a new generation of research on improving urban schools. Lewis' special areas of interests are academic achievement of students of color in K-12 settings, recruitment and retention of Black male teachers, and urban education.

To register for the virtual event, held from 5:30-6:45pm CST, click here.

Parallel Paths

A revelation about her mother cemented Carter’s interest in urban education. Though valedictorian of her eighth-grade class, her mother couldn’t further pursue her education since there were no high schools in Mississippi that accepted African American students at the time. “That realization was gripping for me,” Carter said.

Larke too became interested in multicultural education after researching inequities like these in graduate school. “That was life-changing,” she said.

The two women eventually merged at Texas A&M, where they researched, published and recruited, drawing in faculty and students of color.

Professor Emeritus Norvella Carter was the first Black endowed chair holder in Texas A&M University history. A renowned researcher in urban education, she has spent a lifetime studying urban school systems and their practices, lecturing on the topic and recruiting students to the field.

“They were transformational faculty members at Texas A&M, just amazing women and mentors,” said Dr. Diana Wandix-White ’19, who was recruited to the graduate program by Carter. Wandix-White co-hosts the annual Celebration of Black Culture and Education Event, during which the Carter-Larke Lecture Series takes place. The event drew 50 people in 2017 and has grown to an audience of 300 with noted scholars lecturing on a myriad of topics about inequities in education and strategies to correct them.

Past highlights include Prairie View A&M Professor Fred Bonner’s lecture, “Resilient, Black and Brilliant,” that focused on identifying gifted African American students and the biases that overlook them for such school programs. Last year’s lecturer, University of Texas Professor Keffrelyn Brown, spoke about the need for accurate depictions of African American history in school curriculums.

“The lecture series is all about honoring the legacies of Dr. Carter and Dr. Larke and about honoring others who have made an impact on Black education. It’s allowed us to have conversations across the campus,” said Wandix-White. The event culminates with two recipients receiving a Carter-Larke Legacy Award for research and leadership contributions in the field.


Lasting Legacy

Larke was Aggieland’s first African American female to complete the entire tenure process from rank of lecturer to full professor. She developed courses on multicultural education that broadened to encompass a doctoral-level curriculum and worked with school districts and higher education institutions to integrate systemic change toward equity in the nation’s classrooms. The grandmother to six girls spent her later years at Texas A&M researching African American females and academics, due to a dearth of information on the subject.

“When you hear stories about what’s going on in schools, you have to do the work,” Larke said. “That was the great thing about Texas A&M. I was allowed to do all that research that was so important.”

Professor Emeritus Pat Larke's long Texas A&M legacy continues through the College of Education and Human Development's Carter-Larke Lecture Series.

Carter focused on school districts, locally and globally, traveling abroad with graduate students to study urban school systems and their practices. Nicknamed the “pied piper of recruiting,” she drew record numbers of students of color to Texas A&M to study urban education. A career highlight included giving expert testimony before the U.S. Congress on the opportunity gap between Black and white children in America.

“Appearing before Congress was one of the many opportunities that Texas A&M gave me,” said Carter. “The university allowed me to soar.”

The duo’s work continues through their former students, now faculty members in the department, who are researching, among other things, how to redefine the field of urban education to include suburban and rural environments.

“They left us an incredible foundation for our ongoing work,” says Associate Professor Jemimah Young ’06 ’08 ’13, recalling a conversation with Larke years ago when entering the multicultural doctoral program. “Dr. Larke told me, ‘You’re going to come in here, major in multicultural education, and you’re going to be a professor, so I can retire in peace. At the time, I didn’t know what she meant by those words, but I do now. It’s about carrying on their work, about evolving the program and the future of multicultural and urban education,” said Young, now program chair of the multicultural education program. “I can’t quite put into words what it means to be here and to be part of their academic lineage and continue this most important work.”

To give to the Carter-Larke Lecture Series endowment, contact Jody Ford ’99, senior director of development, at (979) 847-8655 or by submitting a message using the form below.

You can also make an online gift toward the lecture series' endowment or support its crowdfunding initiative by making an online donation at Texas A&M's Spirit of Giving website.